‘There’s no magic in animal handling.’ Calm behavior taught, learned.

Dr. Hoglund’s low-energy cattle-handling workshops school cattle and handlers

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Dr. Hoglund talks about raising hands from below eye level to above the eye level of the cattle to add a little energy to create movement, while emphasizing the importance of using only the amount of energy needed.

 By Sherry Bunting, first published in Farmshine, Nov. 7, 2018

MARION, Pa. — When Josh and Brandi Martin attended their first low-energy cattle handling and stockmanship clinic with Dr. Don Hoglund, Josh wondered what he could learn. After all, he works cattle every day at the family’s farm where they milk 1000 cows and raise dairy replacements as well as beef cattle in Franklin County, Pennsylvania.

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Josh and Brandi Martin attended a previous clinic and learned so much they organized one as a refresher at their farm for themselves and their neighbors.

“I learned a lot, and it surprised me,” he told a dozen fellow dairy producers, employees and industry representatives at a two-day workshop organized at Martin Farms Oct. 15-16.

“There’s no magic in animal handling,” said Dr. Hoglund, who stated there’s also no definition for “emotion” because emotion is cognitive and requires language.

Fear, therefore, can’t be quantified.

He focused on the observable behavior of animals and how humans and animals learn from their interactions.

The learning for clinic attendees began in a classroom setting before heading out to the heifers and cows with the realization that just like no one in the room could know what anyone else was thinking or feeling, we also don’t know what animals are thinking or feeling.

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Dr. Don Hoglund

“But we can observe and measure their behavior and responses,” said Dr. Hoglund, whose educational, vocational and life experiences span decades as a veterinarian, animal behaviorist, animal trainer (including for Walt Disney Company), researcher, educator, evaluator and text book author on the subject.

A scientist with decades of experience, Hoglund stressed the importance of observing behavior, not emotion and of using specific words in conversations with consumers to convey behavior that can be observed instead of emotion, which is a guess.

As we soon found out, Hoglund’s clinics are not your run-of-the-mill stockmanship workshops. He teaches science-based and practical approaches to human and animal interaction – challenging the conventional wisdom.

“I’m not here to tell you how to handle your cattle, but rather to show you how animals learn, and how you learn affects how your animals learn,” he said.

Part of the two-day cattle course at the Martin farm involved having producers do techniques in training and handling to the point where they can teach someone else and accomplish important aspects of various farm owner and employee certifications.

Additionally, Hoglund’s techniques equipped attendees with a few ideas for “teaching” dairy animals calm parlor behavior via low-energy training as heifers.

The fascinating aspect of the clinic was evident in how both the people and the cattle demonstrated observable behaviors that showed they were both learning.

“We are seeing a revolution in the neurosciences,” said Dr. Hoglund, explaining that we really don’t know why animals run.

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A dozen dairy producers, employees and industry people attended Dr. Don Hoglund’s low-energy cattle handling clinic at Martin Farms near Marion, Franklin County, Pennsylvania recently. Photos by Sherry Bunting

“They run because they can,” he said. “There’s more than one reason why animals run, so instead of why, we should be looking at ‘when’ they run. Look at when a behavior occurs, not guessing why. You know what the cattle are doing and when they are doing it.”

He demonstrated a primary example on dairy farms.

“A dairy cow faces you all of her life. That’s how we feed and interact with her growing up. But for milking, she faces away from you and has to turn her head to see you,” Hoglund explains. “We can teach animals to calmly face away so they are ready for the parlor.”

He explained his techniques as “low-energy handling” — using just the amount of energy it takes. Preferring to speak in terms of “energy” versus “stress,” Hoglund said a key is for cattle handlers to learn to manage their own energy levels relative to the cattle.

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Dr. Hoglund instructs pairs of participants in the heifer pens at Martin Farms as the teach heifers to calmly “face away.”

“When we start doing things in the blind zone, early, we are training the cattle to handle this calmly,” he said. “Everyone is told to stay out of the cow’s blind zone, but that’s where all the milking work is done.

“How about we train her to accept that?”

In the heifer pens, attendees, working in pairs, put the principles into practice according to Hoglund’s instructions getting the heifers to learn “facing away” behavior and “see human go to food.”

It was interesting to see how quickly they settled-in to be orderly as they learned “facing away,” and how their handlers learned to step away once they got the animals where they wanted them to go.

“Your energy drops and the animal learns. That’s what we’re after, the learning,” said Hoglund. “Cattle are in the business of learning to stay alive. They will go the efficient way and that helps you get more of the milk you are investing in.

“When we work with cattle in low-energy, then we have them in the parlor in low-energy,” he explained, adding that calm behavior is observable where the term “relaxed” is a feeling term, and therefore unknown.

“We want to talk and think about these things as behavior and not emotion. Behavior is anything you can observe,” he explained. “We are teaching others to teach animals to go calmly and to face away from us.”

The biggest thing for clinic attendees was to come away doing enough to be able to teach others at their own farms. After working in a heifer pen, participants had the opportunity to ‘train’ another clinic participant.

Throughout the handling, Hoglund said that trotting is okay, but that if the animals begin to lope, that’s not what you want.

The exercises in teaching cattle to accept “facing away” are something producers or employees can do 15 minutes a day for three days in a row and get results and then periodically refresh, according to Hoglund.

“It’s not really animal handling or stockmanship, it’s animal learning,” he observed. “The animals are learning to accept compression, and the people learn to slow down, be safe, and manage themselves to use only the energy required to accomplish the task. As we lower the energy, we reinforce the learning.”

He acknowledged that it’s tough for handlers to learn when to step back. “That’s one of the hardest things to learn, but also the most important.”

Low-energy handling starts with hands at sides. For safety reasons, he advised participants not to put them down in their pockets but to thumb their pockets and keep the hands out in case they need them.

“We add energy to move them by moving our hands from below the eye level of the cattle to above the eye level to raise the energy,” Hoglund explained.

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Bred heifers calmly eat at the bunks watching some of their pen-mates ‘learn’ calm parlor entry through a makeshift chute.

When it comes to training animals and human handlers for low-energy handling, Hoglund said avoid training animals where they sleep: “You don’t what to chase animals out of their beds to train them.”

While working in the heifer pens at the Martin farm, Hoglund explained that, “Heifers learn through all five senses. To know where an animal is looking, look at her ear, not her eye. She can see two things at once, so the ear tells you more.”

This is important information for producers and employees to avoid raising the energy level in a pen.

Hoglund made the case that these techniques are also important from an economic standpoint. Citing work he has been involved with in Minnesota, he said it takes 20 minutes for a cow to get rid of that adrenaline rush from a high-energy handling.

“That 20 minutes can hold back two and a half to three pounds of milk in the next milking,” he said, adding that cattle remember “where” things happen and don’t regain the milk lost.

“These techniques will help you get the milk you’ve already invested in,” said Hoglund, explaining that  “animals repeat what they learn, and for the people working with the animals, seeing gives information but doing is learning.”

This was just one aspect of the two-day clinic and the tip of the iceberg in terms of Dr. Hoglund’s work and the services and education he provides to universities, organizations, companies and especially hands-on to groups of producers and employees on farms.

Look for more tips from this clinic in the future, and to learn more about Dr. Hoglund and his work, visit https://www.dairystockmanship.com/

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How will fake milk, fake meat be labeled and regulated?

Say, what? New twist on standards of identity: How will fake milk and fake meat be labeled and regulated?

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In a time when many people have lost their connection to the values and sustainability of the circle of life, cattle have been getting an undeserved bad rap on everything from diet to environment to compassion. On all three counts, the anti-animal agenda lies behind the false narrative that is leading us down a dishonest path to more fake concoctions of ill-fated science fueling profits at the expense of our physical and emotional health and the health of the planet. Fake meat and fake milk are funded by billionaires, genetically engineered by USDA, initiated as the brain children of Silicon Valley techies, with partnership from the biggest names in corporate agriculture. Noble goals of ending hunger are the defense, but it’s difficult to believe that when we have surplus dairy and meat protein produced naturally with the real problem of hunger coming down to distribution and waste. This so-called solution has the potential to quietly dictate food choices, markets and livelihoods.

By Sherry Bunting, updated since first published in Farmshine, November 21, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  “Dairy reinvented: Sustainable. Kind. Delicious,” is the tagline of Perfect Day’s website.

“Better meat, better world” are the words that jump from the Memphis Meats website.

To be more specific, Perfect Day’s mission is to “create a better way to make dairy protein, the same nutritious protein found in cow’s milk…without the help of a single cow.”

Meanwhile, at Memphis Meats, their mission is “To bring delicious and healthy meat to your table by harvesting it from cells instead of animals… feel good about how it’s made because we strive to make it better for you… and the world.”

On the fake meat side, Memphis Meats received Series A funding from four sources in August 2017: venture capitalist DFJ, billionaire investors Bill Gates and Richard Branson, and Cargill. In January of 2018, Tyson came on board as an investor.

On the fake dairy side, Perfect Day received its Series A funding from Singapore and Hong Kong venture capital and investment companies that have relationships with some of the largest food and beverage companies and brands in the world, according to a company news release. In addition, Continental Grain was part of the early investment, and in November 2018, Perfect Day announced a partnership with Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).

The big question, at present, is how will these proteins be regulated and labeled?

The discussion is converging with FDA’s nutrition innovation strategy and modernization of standards of identity (especially dairy standards of identity), along with parallel hearings and comment periods on how to regulate and label the ‘meat’ version of lab-created cellular proteins.

Make no mistake about it folks: Both of these processes involve genetic engineering start-to-finish.

Perfect Day (fake milk protein), for example, sources yeast from USDA research labs that has been “genetically-altered” to include bovine protein stimulators and synthesizers.

Memphis Meats (fake meat) uses animal cells, mainly bovine and poultry, from cell banks that have been edited to grow only desired muscle cells — separate from their whole-animal source.

The fake dairy protein would be the end-product of the fermentation of the genetically-altered yeast, while the fake meat protein would be the protein blobs that grow from the genetically-edited cells, using neonatal bovine serum — or a plant chemical substitute that is under development — as a growth “on” button.

Both systems would require energy feed sources, using a sugar and/or starch substrate to feed the growth.

Both processes would produce waste streams.

The dairy version are grown in fermentation vats. The meat version in bioreactor towers.

While opinions vary on how quickly these technologies can scale, it is clear that the technologies are well-funded, and that agriculture’s top-tier food supply-chain processors and distributors are partnering.

We must continue to let FDA and USDA know what farmers and consumers — the two ends of the supply chain that need to be talking to each other — feel about the potential of these technologies to create captive-supply market control using interchangeable proteins in common manufactured dairy products or as protein enhancements for plant-based beverages, as well as to stretch boneless beef and poultry products with fake counterparts, namely as ground beef, hamburger, meatballs and chicken tenders and nuggets.

In a press release Friday, November 16, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that they will “jointly oversee the production of cell-cultured food products derived from livestock and poultry.”

There has been no similar FDA PMO-regultory process established for the fake milk proteins.

USDA and FDA had a public meeting in July and October to discuss the use of bovine and poultry “cell lines” to develop these cell-cultured, lab-created foods.

In fact, meat industry stakeholders shared their perspectives on the regulation that is needed to “foster these innovative food products and maintain the highest standards of public health,” said FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb in an official FDA statement in November.

USDA and FDA announced their “agreement on a joint regulatory framework wherein FDA oversees cell collection, cell banks and cell growth and differentiation. A transition from FDA to USDA oversight will occur during the cell harvest stage. USDA will then oversee the production and labeling of food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry.”

As FDA and USDA are “actively refining the technical details of the framework,” some of the aspects of the framework are said to include robust collaboration and information-sharing between the two agencies to allow each to carry out our respective roles.

The well-funded startups and their lobbying organization Good Food Institute (a misnomer in this author’s opinion) had pushed for FDA to control labeling and inspection knowing that if USDA were in charge, their efforts to scale production would be slowed.

In view of this joint approach between FDA and USDA, the original public comment period about cell-cultured ‘meat’ had been extended to December 26, 2018. Comments can be seen at the FDA docket at https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FSIS-2018-0036-0001  and there are thoughts that this comment period could be extended again as has the dairy standards of identity comment period.

Meanwhile, on the lab-created ‘dairy’ protein front, Perfect Day, a Silicon-Valley startup, announced in a press release in November that it has formed a partnership with ADM, an agricultural processor and food ingredient provider with a mission of plant-to-plate collaboration throughout the food industry.

In fact, ADM will provide facilities for scaling this technology as part of the deal.

This partnership is billed as “teaming up” to begin supplying “the world’s first animal-free dairy proteins to the food industry in 2019,” according to Perfect Day.

“Animal-free dairy proteins will not only offer consumers the option to have a lactose-free, animal-free alternative to conventional animal-based dairy, but also provide a portfolio of nutritious and functional, high-purity proteins with similar taste and nutrition profile of dairy proteins for a wide range of food and beverage applications,” Perfect Day said in their press release.

Meanwhile, the FDA has extended — yet again — its invitation for information specifically on “the use of names of dairy foods in the labeling of plant-based products.” So far, 10,043 comments (as of December 28, 2018) have been received on this docket. To comment by the new deadline of January 28, 2019, go to the docket online at https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FDA-2018-N-3522.

Dairy checkoff-funded DMI completed a survey of consumers recently showing that 73% are confused about the differences in nutrition between real dairy milk and plant-based alternatives calling themselves ‘milk.’

Other surveys show that more than half of U.S. consumers want healthy foods with ‘clean’ labels having few ingredients and limited or no processing.

It would seem that these findings, among others, would indicate clearly to FDA and USDA that consumers want no more monkey-business when it comes to their food, that they want to see clarity in the enforcement of milk and dairy standards of identity, and that they want to be informed about look-alike ingredients made in laboratories instead of in the time-honored land-and-animal care-taking profession of dairy and livestock farmers and ranchers.

One thing to keep in mind when commenting is to highlight the fact that over half of U.S. consumers want food that does not have a long list of additives and that is minimally processed.

That, on top of nutritional differences and new unproven processes, are enough reason to aggressively label any food containing either the fake dairy or fake meat protein because standards of identity are in place not just for health and safety but also to prevent fraudulent misleading of consumers.

Consumers should know what they are buying and be able to choose food based on their beliefs about what is a better world, not someone else defining what is kind and good and sustainable for them and not using the government’s currently flawed dietary guidelines to decide for consumers what is deemed “healthy.”

Let FDA and USDA know that we as consumers and farmers want clear labeling if these technologies are going to scale into our food system. We want the fake versions to have all of the inspection rigor that real dairy and meat proteins are subjected to.

Above all, we do not want the government quietly removing — via its one-size-fits-all nutrition innovation strategy — our ability to choose foods and production methods with which we want to nourish our bodies and on which we wish to spend our hard-earned money.

This may come down to a battle between fake animal protein ingredients funded by billionaires aligned with Silicon Valley startups and partnered by the biggest names in corporate agriculture vs. a collaboration between individual farmers and ranchers who are the backbone of our nation, the stewards of land and livestock, along with the public at-large, the consumers who are confused by the lines that are blurring.

Now, more than ever, both ends of the supply chain — farmers / ranchers and consumers — need to engage with each other directly — and not through the industry-scripted mouthpieces.

Stay tuned.

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NY’s ESF Wagyu dispersal Sept. 22: Japan’s ‘national treasure’ brings top-shelf flavor to beef

Niche cross-breeding opportunity seen for dairy

By Sherry Bunting, originally published in Farmshine, Sept. 14, 2018

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NEW BERLIN, N.Y. — Their frame and appearance could be deemed more dairy than beef. Their meat is prized above all for flavor and tenderness. At hotels and resorts, Wagyu beef is top-of-the-line. If you’ve eaten the real thing, you know it.

In Japan, the Wagyu are a longstanding national treasure.

In the U.S., they have been the pride and joy of breeders like Donald ‘Doc’ Sherwood, DVM. He has been breeding full-blood Wagyu beef cattle for 17 years at his Empire State Farm near Binghamton, New York.

On Saturday, September 22nd, 100 lots of elite Wagyu cattle and genetics will sell in the Empire State Farm (ESF) ‘Final Chapter’ herd dispersal at the Hosking Sales facility in New Berlin.

The sale will feature young and mature cows, bred and open heifers, herd sire prospects, embryo recipient cows, cow/calf pairs, embryos and semen.

Cow Buyer will be in the house for online bidding as well.

The retired veterinarian once bred some top purebred Holstein dairy cattle under the ESF prefix in a joint venture several decades ago, with one of his sons, who previously had a dairy farm. They sold some ESF dairy cattle to Japan.

Years later, in 2001, Dr. Sherwood began importing the Japanese Wagyu beef cattle and developed full-blood genetics — taking his love of bovines in a different direction toward the elite melt-in-your-mouth beef of the Wagyu.

“I was interested in the disposition of these animals and the quality of their meat,” Sherwood recalls in a phone interview with Farmshine this week. “I researched them, and I realized they were a fit for me. There were not too many breeders at the time, and their disposition made it possible for me to work with them on my own.”

Full-blood herds, like ESF, are highly prized as sources of imported and developed 100% Wagyu genetics. Sherwood explains that purebred herds are defined as a minimum 93% Wagyu and that the industry today includes many other ‘percentage-Wagyu’ herds.

In fact, the American Wagyu Association (AWA) is the fastest growing beef breed association in recent years.

Sherwood chose to stay 100% Wagyu, breeding only full-bloods according to the Japanese tradition. Over the years, he’s sold mainly breeding stock, but also surplus males for others to finish for specialty top-shelf beef markets.

During his veterinary years before retirement in 2003, Sherwood and his wife Mary, worked as partners, but as he got into the Wagyu after retirement, she was unable for health reasons to help. He has developed a real affinity for this breed because of the way they acclimate readily to people making his work easier in these later years.

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“To look at them, you would never know what a superior beef animal they are. They aren’t muscular or thick like other beef breeds, and in some ways their body structure is more dairy,” says Dr. Donald Sherwood of Empire State Farm as he notes the outstanding meat the Wagyu produce and the pleasure this Japanese breed has been for him to work with virtually on his own for 17 years.

“These cattle are a pleasure to work with. It’s neat to have an animal you can work with by yourself as long as you let them know you’re around,” Sherwood observes.

He says many people are getting started into this breed and building on it, in part because they are easy to work with as long as they are not left to run wild.

“It’s not hard to work with the Wagyu. They adjust to people very well and become docile and friendly with interaction, where other beef breeds don’t get that disposition where they enjoy being around people,” Sherwood explains.

“The Japanese bred these cattle originally, and I’ve based a lot of my program on the proven sires from Japan. Most of my sires have come from Japan, where these cattle are a national treasure – they think that much of them,” he adds.

We hear the stories, that the Japanese feed the Wagyu beer and massage them and take individual care of them as smallholder operations. As Sherwood notes, Japan doesn’t have the land resources for cattle like in the U.S., so they are protective of their Wagyu in smaller and more intimate settings.

He is quick to point out, “It’s really the meat that makes the Wagyu stand out. These aren’t show cattle. Their claim to fame is how they look on the rail,” Sherwood explains. “With meat so outstanding, the Wagyu are more noted for the quality of their meat than being judged for their appearance in a show ring. They aren’t that muscular, but have that good-tasting beef with a healthy and flavorful fat.”

In the U.S., Wagyu (or as it is often described on menus as “Kobe”) often comes from percentage-herds or crossbreeding. But for those who’ve had the real-deal, it’s an eating experience not soon forgotten.

Information from the American Wagyu Association (AWA) suggests the type of marbling is different. Imagine thin ribbons of intramuscular fat evenly dispersed. And AWA notes this is a healthy fat that is high in Omega 3’s.

“To look at them, you would never know what a superior beef animal they are,” Sherwood says with a chuckle. “They aren’t muscular or thick like other beef breeds, and in some ways their body structure is more dairy.”

In fact, in Japan and Australia, Holsteins are often crossed with the Wagyu to reduce birthweight for first-calf dairy animals and to produce an F1 cross that offers a “commercial” version of this very distinctive high-quality beef.

In Australia, for example, the Wagyu herd is quite large, and they’ve developed the F1 Holstein x Wagyu as a secondary income stream for a dairy industry under siege of many years of poor milk prices.

Breeding Holstein females to Wagyu bulls is already commonplace in both Japan and Australia with Wagyu x Holstein deemed the ultimate cross in Japan because Holsteins are the next highest marbling cattle breed behind Wagyus, producing meat superior in quality to the meat of Wagyu crossed with any other breed, according to information available from the AWA.

Their highly-marbled beef typically grades Prime or above, even in crossbreeding programs. In fact, Japan has eight quality standards above the U.S. Prime quality grade that the Wagyu meet, according to the AWA.

In the U.S., less than 2% of all U.S. beef currently grades Prime. This, along with a return of consumers to fat and flavor after revelations about the pitfalls of lowfat diets, helps position the Wagyu as a breed that can make a significant impact on beef quality – particularly in dairy-cross programs where the value of bull calves is increased and sexed semen heifers are produced with matings to dairy bulls.

The AWA reports that numerous U.S. buyers are willing to pay $0.20-0.30 per lb premiums above local market beef prices for Wagyu F1 calves (Wagyu x Holstein).

However, this value is only realized when working with a marketing system that recognizes the superior eating quality of the Wagyu.

Still, Sherwood notes that nothing else — no cross — equals the flavor of full-blooded 100% Wagyu beef. And that is why full-bloods command such high prices.

As an example, one ESF animal selling on Sept. 22 had a sister sell for $16,000 at a sale in Limerick, Pennsylvania in April of this year. It was the Synergy Wagyu Genetic Opportunity Sale.

Synergy had several Empire State Farm (ESF) females in their herd and sold their ESF-pedigree offspring for amounts up to $46,000, according to information available in the sale catalog

In his letter to buyers, Dr. Sherwood says he does not claim to be an expert on Japanese Wagyu, but that he studied the breed extensively and incorporated the Japanese philosophy into his management to develop lines with the outstanding meat Wagyu are known for and crossing them with Wagyu lines that bring size, milking ability, small calves for calving ease as well as disposition and temperament.

“This sale is it for me,” says Sherwood, 86, about his beloved cattle project. “We had an auction five years ago, and then started up again, but age and health have me slowing-down so this is a complete dispersal this time. I’ve had 40 years as a veterinarian and a great wonderful time working with cattle and enjoying it. Now I’ll spend more time with my family with thanks to our sons Don and Steve, and especially my wife Mary. We have worked together all of our life.”

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God bless our farmers and ranchers

By Sherry Bunting, adapted from Farmshine, April 20, 2018

Mother Nature giveth and she taketh away. That is certainly true right now in agriculture. May God bless our farmers and ranchers! And may we all try to understand a little more about what they do working with the land and animals to manage the lifecycles of both.

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art courtesy Adam Bunting after 2013 SD Blizzard Atlas

My heart hurts for the difficulties and loss, while grateful for food that knows the hand well worn, the heart so dedicated, the land so loved, the lifecycles of both land and animals so tended, that people and planet have both nourishment and roots.

Not only are dairy and beef producers dealing with low prices and below cost margins, weather factors converged last weekend to produce even more difficulty and loss.

While most ranchers would be seeing their cowherds on grass by now — just as most dairy farmers would be seeing hay fields green up with growth and be doing fieldwork, harvesting rye, planting crops, and spreading manure — agriculture throughout the nation is a good three weeks behind schedule due to winter’s unwelcome overstay.

To say folks are ready for spring is an understatement!

Late March and early April brought a series of snowfalls in the East and Midwest, but then there was the big one last weekend.

Winter Storm Xantos became Blizzard Evelyn and left quite a trail, dumping high winds, deep snow and low temperature extremes upon the April calving season of beef cow/calf operations in South Dakota and Nebraska and surrounding areas.

Then it moved into Minnesota and Wisconsin dairy territory with 2 feet of snow, accompanied by 30 to 50 mph winds, to produce 5 to 10 foot drifts that not only made dairying difficult, but created snowbanks on rooftops that collapsed many barns, especially in Northeast Wisconsin.

At the same time, worsening drought in the Southwest produced fires in multiple states, with particular ferocity in western Oklahoma where upwards of 300,000 acres have burned, homes have been evacuated, over 1500 cattle and other range livestock have been lost, and the fires are nearly contained after rains quelled over 2 weeks of burn (as of April 26).

Through it all, farmers and ranchers take care of their animals, and each other. They count not just losses, but blessings.

Post after post on social media asked for prayers for farmers and ranchers in the winter storms and the fires.

Beef producers in the blizzard’s path were busy keeping mama cows fed on the range and locating newborn calves born in the blizzard to bring them in for warming.

Dairy producers were plowing lanes and roads for milk trucks and feed equipment, and shoveling snowbanked drifts from rooftops striving to avoid barn collapses.

Meanwhile others were fighting fires and mobilizing to get temporary hay and help where needed for livestock.

A dairy in western Oklahoma, making milk soaps with milk from their Jersey herd, was beyond thankful when a semitruck, loaded with dairy quality hay, arrived to feed the cows after grasslands and stockpiled forages were burned.

A  poignant story is recounted of a rancher driving his pickup into the direction of the fire that had unpredictably shifted, calling to his cattle, another going in after him to bring him to safety.

These men and women across our country continue to look out for each other and even in loss, they see blessings.

Throughout the prairies where the blizzard dumped snow on calving beef herds, ranchers gave thanks that it also brought the kind of moisture that soaks into their droughted soils and fills stock dams with much-needed water.

While the fire zones have immediate need for hay to feed surviving cattle, hay stocks across the country are becoming short due to the overstay of winter weather. This will continue as first hay cuttings in many areas from East to West are delayed by either unseasonably cold weather and excessive moisture, or by drought.

Hay is one of a number of items needed by producer-victims of the wildfires. Those interested in donating hay and fencing supplies are urged to contact coordinators at 405.496.9329, 405.397.7912 or 405.590.0106.

Like in last year’s western fires, Erin Boggs and her family are picking up orphaned and burned calves to care for them until the ranchers are ready to bring them home. Follow her at @rurallifewife on facebook and learn how to help.

As an outgrowth of last year’s devastating fires, a 501c3 charitable foundation called Ag Community Relief was set up in Michigan to respond to all kinds of relief efforts among U.S. farms and ranches.

Wildfire relief assistance for cattle producers and stockgrowers is also being coordinated by the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Foundation and the Oklahoma Farmers and Ranchers Foundation

To help pay firefighters’ bills, there’s a public facebook group with information of all the fire companies involved.

On social media posts, I often see comments about bringing cows in or leaving them out. There is no one cattle management system that will protect from every abnormal weather event, poorly timed storms and wind-fueled fires.

Farmers and ranchers plan for what can be anticipated and adapt with perseverance for what cannot. There are no guarantees, so the deal is played. Here is just a small sampling of how:

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The first of the many blizzard babies saved at Wink Cattle Co., Howes, South Dakota as Dean and Joan Wink (above) worked in tandem. Dean found the newborn calves and brought them in for Joan to warm in the kitchen before returning them to their dams. The April calvings kept them busy throughout the 24 hours at the height of the blizzard with more snow falling the next week. Dean is former Speaker of the SD House and Joan was appointed by the Governor last year to the SD Board of Regents. She is a literacy, language and education professor and author rooted in the reality of ranching life as in her latest book, The Power of Story.   Photos courtesy Joan Wink

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In Ellwood, Nebraska, Becky Long Chaney, formerly of Thurmont, Maryland, reported her family is thanking God that the ranch’s 200-plus calves made it through the storm and that all newborns were located. The Chaney twins Rianna and Sheridan (left) helped warm calves. Photos courtesy Becky Long Chaney
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Sadly, dairy barn roof collapses were reported on dozens of dairy farms in Wisconsin. In most cases, cattle were saved, but in other cases, cattle were lost. At Kinnard Farms (above) where over 1000 cows are milked, they reported incredibly strong winds with Blizzard Evelyn producing huge snow drifts building up on the roof over a milking parlor. They spent Sunday afternoon working to remove as much rooftop snowbank as possible because 5 to 10 more inches of snow were still in the forecast. Evelyn may go down as the second largest recorded snowfall in Green Bay history, and it occurred in mid-April when farms like this one would normally be turning their attention to the crop fields. Photo courtesy Kinnard Farms

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Against a backdrop of snow and ice that is unusual this time of year, even for Minnesota, the family at Lingen Dairy (above), Balaton, Minnesota spent all night moving continuously drifting snow to take care of cattle, keep barn roofs free of snowbanks and help get the milk truck in – finally. The farm’s lone Jersey could be counted on to come outside and monitor the efforts. Photos courtesy Lingen Dairy

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At the Benson Ranch (above) in Colton, South Dakota, they worked throughout the day and night to keep cattle fed, pay particular attention to youngstock and locate newborns in the blizzard. Photo courtesy Laura Benson

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Scenes like this one (above) captured by the Englewood Kansas firefighters in one of several western Oklahoma fires, tell only a fraction of the tale of devastation these wildfires are spreading throughout cattle and range country on the heels of last year’s devastating fire season. Photo courtesy Englewood Firefighters

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Here a rancher, Jason Bates, carries a calf from a burning field this week in Oklahoma. Photo posted by Megan Greer, by Debbie Bates

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And then there are scenes like these involving efforts like Ag Community Relief, where farmers, truckers, lenders and ag service and supply companies work together to quickly get to the work of #haulinhope — getting emergency hay for surviving livestock, milk replacer for orphaned calves, and other supplies that are needed where they are needed in areas like the fire zones. Sometimes, rain follows along, sure hope more comes their way.

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High plains fires take lives, spark spirit

Convoys of trucks bringing hay to the areas affected by March wildfires have come from central Texas, southwest Oklahoma, central Kansas and from Nebraska, South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio and now funds for fuel are being raised to bring 1000 round bales from western Pennsylvania to southwest Kansas… as farmers and ranchers across the country pull together in amazing ways to help their peers with forage for cattle after wildfires decimated grasslands and stored hay in the High Plains. Derrick Carlisle of Claysville, Pennsylvania reports that nearly 1000 round bales of hay have been donated from farms in Greene and Washington counties, and a trucking company has agreed to transport the hay to Ashland, Kansas “at fuel cost.” Now, funds are being raised quickly to buy fuel to transport the hay. Individuals and businesses wanting to help provide funds for fuel, should contact Washington County Cattlemen’s Association president Brian Hrutkay at 724-323-5815.

To help with the ongoing relief efforts for ranchers affected by the wildfires, visit http://www.beefusa.org/firereliefresources.aspx to see various contacts for ways to help listed by the states affected as well as coordinated efforts in other states like Kentucky and Minnesota that are planning deliveries.

 Trent Loos at Rural Route Radio is helping to organize a rebuilding effort through means of raising cash. Various auctions are already set and the idea can be replicated. For information about how to participate in this, contact Trent Loos at 515.418.8185 or check out his Rural Route radio
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“There is so much appreciation in this community for the outpouring of love and compassion.”

Recap reprinted from Farmshine, March 17, 2017

ASHLAND, Kan. — High Plains ranchers are always on guard for the combination of March winds and wildfires. When the two conspire together, the result can rapidly turn devastating and deadly. That was the situation last week in southwest Kansas, the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle and eastern Colorado.

All told, the wildfires on March 6 consumed around 1.7 million acres of grassland, 33 homes, over 200 farm structures, an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 adult cows along with untold numbers of calves, horses and wildlife. In Texas and Oklahoma, over 5000 hogs perished in separate facilities.

Tragically, some of the affected ranching families in the Panhandle suffered the ultimate loss of loved ones. Seven people lost their lives, at least five while trying to herd cattle to safety before becoming trapped in the rapidly moving fire when the high winds changed direction.

The livestock losses are particularly heavy in southwest Kansas, where a local veterinarian estimates 3000 to 6000 beef cattle have perished; however, an accurate assessment is still weeks away. In the Panhandle, Texas A&M Agrilife extension reports preliminary loss estimates of 2500 adult cows, plus additional calves.

Two consecutive years of above average moisture provided the good grass growth that ended up fueling multiple fires in early March. The previous 60 days had turned it tinder-dry, together with the high winds of up to 60-70 mph, creating the perfect storm. The rapidly moving ‘Starbuck’ fire in northeast Oklahoma and southwest Kansas will go down as the largest and most devastating single fire in Kansas state history. In the Panhandle, the March 6 fire is being called the third worst in Texas history.

While there are some dairies in these areas, extension agents and veterinarians report that no dairy cattle were impacted. But dairy producers and calf ranch operators are among the ag community throughout the region, and beyond, responding to the immediate needs of the region’s ranchers.

Occurring at a vulnerable time, the fires have orphaned many newborn calves. In fact, one purebred Angus operation in Ashland, Kansas described the confluence of emotion – simultaneously dealing with the grisly task of locating and putting-down hundreds of adult cows while gathering to the corrals over 100 survivors for further monitoring and evaluation – 30 of them having their calves in the days immediately following the fire.

Many of the ranchers have lost much of their stored hay supply, and the region’s unburned grasslands are a good 60 days away from greenup — provided they get rain. Surviving cattle are being pulled onto wheat pasture and into corrals — making the immediate priority that of acquiring the hay necessary to feed a good 15,000 surviving livestock in southwest Kansas and over 10,000 in the Panhandle.

With fences to build and repair, feed to secure, cows still calving and long term plans and decisions to make, there’s no time to bottle and bucket feed calves two and three times a day, particularly those ranchers who have also lost their homes.

OrphanCalves01(K-State)County 4-H clubs put the word out early, that youth members would take-in bucket calves to help the ranchers who have so many other things to do in the recovery. (Follow them on Facebook at Orphaned Calf Relief of SW Kansas)

Veterinarians are reaching out to colleagues in the hard-hit areas. Dr. Randy Spare at Ashland Veterinary Center has been organizing some of the needs. He received a call late last week from Dr. Tera Barnhardt.

The 2014 K-State graduate operates a solo bovine practice for dairies and feedlots two hours north of Ashland. While doing preg checks at Deerfield Calf Feeders — where dairy replacement heifers are raised near Johnson, Kansas – Dr. Barnhardt and the general manager Cary Wimmer came up with the idea of offering temporary homes and care in the calf ranch hutches for orphaned calves from Ashland.

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Many ag companies have donated milk replacer, feed, pharmaceuticals and other animal care products — and along with hay donations from other ranches — have come personal items for the families who have lost their homes and belongings.

“Our hearts go out to the ranchers,” said Dr. Barnhardt. “I’m just glad we could help connect some dots and take something off their plate.”

Some of the orphaned Angus calves now at Deerfield are from the Giles Ranch, Ashland, where three family members lost their homes and where they had significant cow losses. At Deerfield, as with the 4-Hers who have volunteered calf care, these baby calves will get the individual care and supervision they need while their owners deal with the recovery process.

“All aspects of this industry are coming together,” said Barnhardt. “It has been impressive. Even the workers at the calf ranch are inspired and proud to take care of these babies.”

As the immediate hustle to triage cattle and secure feed and care for survivors shifts to a longer term plan for coordinating the ongoing relief efforts, those close to the situation are encouraging people who want to help to consider monetary donations needed to cover trucking costs to get donated hay and materials to the affected ranches.

“We don’t want to turn down hay because some of our ranchers are just coming to grips with what their losses are and what their needs will be,” said Dr. Spare. The biggest issue with hay donations right now is the trucking bottleneck. In the short term, the tangibles have been necessary because it takes time for the various foundations to pool monetary donations and get resources to the ranchers.

“Farmers have called from as far away as Vermont and Wisconsin wanting to donate hay, and right now we have 800 bales available nearby in Waco, Texas if we could find the trucking,” said Spare.

Convoys of trucks — semiloads and pickups hauling flatbed trailers — brought an estimated 3000 round bales to the fire-affected regions over the weekend. With more hay available in central Texas and nearby Nebraska, the biggest need at the moment is more trucks or funds to help pay the fuel costs to transport the donated hay.

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(above) Convoys of trucks with hay headed to the wildfire-affected areas over the weekend. This one was organized by Mike and Conner Franetovich of southwest Oklahoma carrying 260 round bales to the ranchers in northwest Oklahoma. Photo by LaQuita Massee/Images By LQ

“When the hay trucks rolled in, it was like the cavalry arrived,” said Greg Gardiner of Gardiner Angus, Ashland. The well-known Angus breeder lost over 500 adult cows, mainly donor cows and spring calvers. They have over 1500 survivors but lost all of their hay — over 5000 round bales and their horse hay as well.

Greg’s brother Mark and his wife Eva lost their home, three of their horses and their dogs to the fire, despite their efforts to free them as the fire changed direction. He was behind them with the horse trailer when the black smoke descended making it impossible to see. He spent a half hour not knowing if they made it out.

“This thing is of biblical proportions, but it all seems small to me. My brother is alive,” said Gardiner. He described the landscape that burned from one end of the ranch to the other as an “apocalyptic wasteland” that will eventually come back stronger with enough rain.

“We’re praying for rain,” said Spare, describing dirty skies as the wind lifts the gray sand over charred soils.

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While prayers are most coveted, those who want to help are urged to contact organizers in the various affected states (see below) to see what the needs are as community leaders develop an ongoing relief plan.

“We are still contacting ranchers,” said Spare. “Some are saying they don’t need hay and feel embarrassed to take it, but the grass is all gone, and we are 60 days from good grass (in unburned areas) if it rains, so we are trying to help people understand as they make their plans, that they will need to have something to feed.”

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Make no mistake, this will be a long recovery for ranchers who have lost 50 to 90% of their herds and multiple years of income, as well as their stockpiled forage and grasslands.

“I told CNN that we as ranchers are stewards of the grasslands, and that the only way we have something to sell for an income is to sell grass through the cows that are eating it. We are working to take care of that and start all over again,” said Dr. Spare, who had significant losses among his own cow herd and was relieved when his son showed up in the driveway Tuesday morning, taking time away from vet school before spring exams to take care of the home front while he worked with other ranchers and their cattle.

As the reality sinks in…

“There is so much appreciation in this community for the outpouring of love and compassion, from the people who come alongside with prayers and help,” said Spare. “Many don’t know how they’ll get through this, but we know we will get through it.”

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A world without cattle?

By Sherry Bunting, published April 22 Register-Star (Greene Media)

A world without cattle would be no world at all.

GL45-Earth Day(Bunting).jpgThe health of the dairy and livestock economies are harbingers of the economic health of rural America … and of the planet itself. Here’s some food for thought as we celebrate Earth Day and as climate change discussions are in the news and as researchers increasingly uncover proof that dietary animal protein and fat are healthy for the planet and its people.

How many of us still believe the long refuted 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, which stated that 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, worldwide, come from livestock, and mostly from cattle?

This number continues to show up in climate-change policy discussion even though it has been thoroughly refuted and dismissed by climate-change experts and biologists, worldwide.

A more complete 2006 study, by the top global-warming evaluators, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stated that the greenhouse gas emissions from all of agriculture, worldwide, is just 10 to 12 percent. This includes not only livestock emissions, but also those from tractors, tillage, and production of petroleum based fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.

Hence, the UN Environmental Program disputed the UN FAO assertion to state the percentage of emissions from total agriculture, worldwide, is just 11%, and that cattle — as a portion of that total — are responsible for a tiny percentage of that 11%. While cattle contribute a little over 2% of the methane gas via their digestive system as ruminants (like deer, elk, bison, antelope, sheep and goats), they also groom grasslands that cover over one-quarter of the Earth’s total land base, and in so doing, they facilitate removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to be tied up in renewable grazing plant material above and below the ground — just like forests do!

Think about this for a moment. The UN Environmental Program and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are in agreement that cattle and other livestock are not the problem the anti-meat and anti-animal-ag folks would have us believe. In fact, they are in many ways a major solution.

Think about the fact that man’s most necessary endeavor on planet Earth — the ongoing production of food — comes from the agriculture sector that in total accounts for just 11 percent of emissions!

Why, then, are major environmental groups and anti-animal groups so fixated on agriculture, particularly animal agriculture, when it comes to telling consumers to eat less meat and dairy as a beneficial way to help the planet? Why, then, has the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Council pushed that agenda in its preliminary report to the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, that somehow the Earth will be better sustained if we eat less meat?

They ignore the sound science of the benefits livestock provide to the Earth. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say what Nicolette Niman has written in her widely acclaimed book “Defending Beef” that, “Cattle are necessary to the restoration and future health of the planet and its people.”

Niman is a trained biologist and former environmental attorney as well as the wife of rancher Bill Niman. She has gathered the data to overturn the myths that continue to persist falsely in the climate-change debate, and her book is loaded with indisputable facts and figures that debunk the “sacred cows” of the anti-animal agenda:

  • Eating meat causes world hunger. Not true. In fact, livestock are not only a nutrient dense food source replacing much more acreage of vegetation for the same nutritive value, livestock are deemed a “critical food” that provides “critical cash” for one billion of the planet’s poorest people — many of whom live where plant crops cannot be grown.
  • Eating meat causes deforestation. Not true. Forests, especially in Brazil, are cleared primarily for soybean production. Approximately 85 percent of the global soybean supply is crushed resulting in soybean oil used to make soy products for human consumption and soybean meal for animal consumption. A two-fer.
  • Eating meat, eggs and full-fat dairy products are the cause of cardiovascular disease. Not true. Researchers are re-looking at this failed advice that has shaped 40-years of American dietary policy. Its source was the 1953 Keys study, which actually showed no causative link! Meanwhile, excessive dietary carbohydrates have replaced fats in the diet, which turn to more dangerous forms of fat as we metabolize them than if we had consumed the natural saturated fats themselves. When healthy fats from nutrient-dense animal proteins are removed from the diet, additional sugars and carbs are added and these have led us down the road to increased body mass and diabetes.
  • Cattle overgrazing has ruined the western prairies. Not true. While improper grazing can have a localized detrimental effect, the larger issue is the pervasive negative effect that is largely coming from not grazing enough cattle. Higher stocking densities that are rotated actually improve the health of grasslands. Large herds provide the activity that loosens, aerates and disperses moisture along with the nutrients the cattle return to the soil — for more vigorous grass growth and soil retention — much as 30 million buffalo and antelope groomed the prairies two centuries ago. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management has favored controlled burns over grazing and is taking away land rights our federal government once shared with ranchers. BLM reductions in allowable stocking densities have initiated a land-grabbing cycle of ranchers losing their land and livelihoods while the land is robbed of its benefits.

The anti-animal agenda continues — groundless, yet powerful. Rural economies, farm families, consumers and the Earth pay the price.

The majority of the lifecycle of supermarket beef and dairy products is rooted in grooming the grasslands and forage croplands that are vital to the Earth and its atmosphere. In addition, farmers and ranchers reduce tillage by planting winter cattle forage to hold soil in place, improve its organic matter and moisture-holding capacity, provide habitat for wildlife while providing temporary weed canopy between major crop plantings. Not only do cattle eat these harvested winter forages, they dine on crop residues and a host of other food byproducts that would otherwise go to waste.

Our planet needs livestock and the farmers and ranchers who care for them. They not only feed us — with more high quality dietary protein, calcium, zinc, and iron per serving than plant-based sources — they also feed the planet by providing necessary environmental benefits.

Enjoy your meat and dairy products without fear — certainly without guilt — and with gratefulness and appreciation for the gift of life given by the animals and because of the hard work and care they have been given by the men and women who work daily caring for the land and its animals. This Earth Day, we are grateful for the circle of life and the farmers and ranchers and their cattle, which sustain our existence, our economies, and our environment.

A former newspaper editor, Sherry Bunting has been writing about dairy, livestock and crop production for over 30 years. Before that, she milked cows. She can be reached at agrite@ptd.net.

Learn more about the latest research to measure emissions due to the dairy and livestock industries.

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Images by Sherry Bunting

 

 

 

 

Day 12: Goliath aftermath: ‘We appreciate the prayers… they are helping’

“This is an animal story and a human story, and the most heartwarming part in this cold winter storm is that while Mother Nature strikes, and is relentless, the human spirit and hard work of people coming together to help each other, prevails.” In this space, I had planned to write Day 12 about random acts of kindness through the holidays. Telling this story seemed most appropriate as the human spirit prevails this week in the aftermath of Winter Storm Goliath’s 48-hour pounding Dec. 26-28 in the heart of the West Texas and eastern New Mexico dairy and beef region, bringing devastating losses…

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Tio Ford sent this photo two days after the storm as the dig-out was underway at his Clover Knolls Dairy, Texico, New Mexico. You can see the packed snow drifts are up to the top of corral fences. Feedlanes and alleyways were a priority Monday to get animals fed and to the parlor (left) after most cows went 30+ hours without milking.

By Sherry Bunting, Reprinted from Farmshine, January 1, 2016

CLOVIS, N.M. — Last weekend’s record-breaking blizzard in the Southwest wasn’t on anyone’s radar. It was 60 degrees with no winter in sight just a few days before Storm Goliath pounded its way through the southern High Plains. Breaking records as a 100-year storm, the combination of sustained high winds driving fine powdery snow — and the sheer 48-hour duration of the storm — conspired to bring devastating losses to the West Texas and Eastern New Mexico dairy region with early estimates that 5% of the region’s 420,000 dairy cows may have perished and double that percentage in losses of youngstock.

“We heard a monster storm was coming, and we were prepared for a foot or two of snow. That can happen, but no one could envision this type of disaster with high winds coming straight from the North to pile it all up around every structure,” said Dr. Robert Hagevoort of the New Mexico State University dairy extension in a phone interview with Farmshine Wednesday.

The 5% — or 20,000 head — loss figure on milk cows is “a place to start,” he said. “We are trying to be conservative, but it will be hard to know the true count until the region is completely dug-out and losses are tallied. Our first concern is getting the survivors fed and back in their corrals and the milking parlor.”

All of Eastern New Mexico and West Texas south of the Panhandle was hard hit, and the storm center appeared to be directly over the region from Roswell to Clovis to Plainview. While Hagevoort has heard from producers having lost 100 to 200 cows, two producers contacted by Farmshine in Portales and Texico report losses of 40 to 50 head, including the losses of hay barns and untold numbers of young stock.

TioFord5950“We lost some cows, but we have heard of herds losing 5 to 10% of their milking cows,” noted Tio Ford of Clover Knolls Dairy, Texico, New Mexico in an email response Wednesday. “People who had beef cattle on wheat pasture were really hit hard, and we uncovered quite a few deads while trying to clear 10-foot-plus drifts off the roads.” Ford’s family has been rooted in New Mexico for over 100 years. His wife Chyanne’s grandfather left the cold winters of northwestern Pennsylvania for the dryland farming and drylot dairying of eastern New Mexico in the 1950s. Her parents Doug and Irene Handy have Do-Rene Dairy in Clovis.

“The wind came from the North and everything on our dairies in this region faces south. The commodity sheds, parlors, calf hutches – all face south in the winter, so the south side of every structure was snowed in,” said Hagevoort. “The blizzard hit with the snow blowing and everything settling on the south side of every structure, snowing-in the hutches with calves inside and forcing dairies to quit milking because of the 8, 10, 12-foot drifts piling up on the south side entrances to the parlors. They couldn’t see to bring cows in.”

As the alleyways and feed lanes filled with deep drifts of wind-driven packed snow, everything came to a standstill.

The visibility became so bad that for most of those 48 hours “no one could do anything. You couldn’t see two feet beyond the hood of the truck,” he added.

The poor visibility was so dangerous that producers became lost on their own dairies. The one to two feet of snow would not be a problem, if it fell straight down, but the winds created drifts up to 12 feet high and packed so tight that cattle simply walked over corral fences and kept walking, becoming lost and disoriented. Some were buried by the driven snow.

Winter Storm Goliath began Saturday and continued “relentless” through Monday morning with sustained winds over 50 mph and gusts above 82 mph in the first 24 hours. On the second day, sustained winds of 40 mph were recorded with gusts above 65 mph.

“One to two feet of snow, we can handle that if it falls normally like wet snow, but not this fine powdery dust snow driven by high winds,” Hagevoort explained. “We still have four-foot drifts around houses in town that is packed in there heavy and the much higher drifts in the countryside require heavy equipment to dig out.”

A state of emergency was declared for both West Texas and Eastern New Mexico as major roads were closed for two to three days. Even two days after the storm, some country roads were still impenetrable with the kind of snow that blades on trucks can’t move.

“When the winds died down Monday morning and the sun came out, people could see what was going on,” said Hagevoort. “Cattle have walked everywhere, and people are still out finding them. They are digging the snow out of corrals to get surviving cattle back in and fed. There are these massive amounts of snow to move, and dairies have 3 to 4 loaders going 24/7 — digging out calves and moving cows back in and feeding and at some point milking again. The sheer manpower required is massive.”

NewMexico-Goliath01Milk haulers were also among the stranded, and Matthew Cook, a milk hauler from Kansas confirms that he was one in the line of trucks stranded for three days at Southwest Cheese near Clovis. “The roads were all closed, and the wind and blowing snow was out-of-control, so I pretty much hung out in my truck. Most of us knew it was coming so we had food and drink and plenty of fuel,” he said in an email Wednesday, confirming the plant was open again.

Reports indicate not much milk has been processed early this week and in addition to the long stretch of 36 to 40 hours when dairies were unable to milk, some milk in the region also needed to be dumped as trucks could not get out with it.

Hagevoort observed that folks are starting to get back to something remotely resembling normal by Wednesday and the focus on day-old calves and milk cows was shifting to the older young stock and dry cow pens.

In the early going, the Department of Transportation and other state agencies put a call out for large equipment as they are equipped for the occasional four to six-inch snows of the region.

“The focus was on people rescue missions on Monday. Dairymen were digging out dairies and their roads back to the main road in the hope at some point the main roads would be clear and they could meet somewhere,” said Hagevoort.

Dairymen and feedlot operators used their large loaders to help uncover cars with stranded motorists stuck 20 hours or more under the snow.

“It was a really rough weekend. They said we got between 8 and 12 inches of snow here, but I’m not sure how they came up with those amounts because the wind was gusting up to 82 mph,” Ford noted. His 3000-cow New Mexico dairy sits right on the Texas border. “We were stuck at the dairy with a skeleton crew for 36 hours before we were able to get replacements. Every dairy, feedlot, or farmer with a big tractor or loader had them out trying to clear the roads.”

Hagevoort4838 (1)Hagevoort noted that, “This is an animal story and a human story, and the most heartwarming part in this cold storm is that while Mother Nature strikes and is relentless, the human spirit and hard work of people coming together to help each other, prevails.”

Dairymen are not usually an emotional lot. They focus on the business and the work and the challenges, but the emotion is raw at the loss of these animals and the sheer devastation. Amid the heartbreak of the losses, producers have no time to dwell as they put one foot in front of the other to dig out and tend cattle and keep their employees safe as everyone works together to find the lost, feed and tend to the survivors, and get the dairies operating again.

While the USDA FSA livestock indemnity program exists as part of the last Farm Bill, it is capped, so Hagevoort says it will be difficult if the large number of losses exceeds the financial compensation available through the indemnity programs.

While size doesn’t matter in terms of the impact of Goliath’s relentless strike, larger dairies may be affected by the caps in terms of receiving compensation proportional to their levels of loss. Officials urge dairy producers to document everything to sort out the help that may be available in the future.

NewMexico-Goliath03 (1)Dairies will continue to work around the huge drifts that won’t melt any time soon as the first priority is locating and securing their animals as they dig out alleys, feed lanes and corrals.

“We can look ahead at how to mobilize resources more rapidly in the future, or how to be safer in situations like this, but the truth is… no two storms are ever the same. This one packed an uncommon combination and longtime residents say they’ve never seen anything like it,” said Hagevoort.

With temps in the teens and 20s and night time wind chills down to -18 at night during the height of the storm, there will be sick cattle and frostbite issues to deal with going forward.

Producers also reported not being able to milk cows for 36 to 40 hours, and that will also impact health and production going forward.

“The cattle have seen a lot of stress,” said Hagevoort. “But we will work through it. It’s a tough thing in times like this where the milk price is below where it needs to be.”

But just like in Dallas, where Goliath spawned tornados and floods, the remarkable human spirit prevails.

“People come together,” said Hagevoort. “On our dairies here, the employees stayed working two to three shifts and owners worked untold hours with them and cooked meals and washed clothes to keep them going. The combination of family farms with employees and owners working together to make it through a challenge like this… That’s the real story.”

NewMexico-Goliath04While the final tally is likely to show young stock losses to be twice that of the estimated 20,000 milk cows lost across the region, Hagevoort noted remarkable stories coming in about calves being found under 6-feet of snow — alive in their hutches.

“This is an incredible story of farmers taking care of the animals they are entrusted with, despite the fury Mother Nature sometimes unexpectedly unleashes,” read a post on Wednesday at the New Mexico State University Dairy Extension’s Facebook page.

On Monday, Tara Vander Dussen of Rajen Dairy with three facilities totaling 10,000 cows in the region wrote a post on her public Facebook page telling consumers and animal activists: “I wish you understood how much we care about our cows. I wish you knew that my husband, brothers, dads, uncles, family and friends got up this morning at 2:00 a.m. to go to the dairy in a blizzard with 65 mph winds, -16°F wind chill, lightning and 6-feet snow drifts. They had to leave their families and children (some families had no power) so our cows could have food and water. They went out to take care of our cows the best that they can. And they did this after working a full day on Christmas Eve and Christmas! They do all of this because they care about the health and safety of every animal on our family farm! I wish you knew.”

Two days and nearly 20,000 shares later, Vander Dussen started a New Mexico Milkmaid blog to communicate further on this topic.

All told, Goliath’s effect stretched across much of the U.S midsection. The massive storm included heavy rain, floods and tornados on the severe side and blizzards with snow and driving winds on the wintry side with ice storms in the middle around the center of Oklahoma.

The rains have put southwest totals ranging 50 to 150% above normal. Cold and muddy conditions are also impacting the beef and dairy operators from the Southern Plains through the Midwest Corn Belt.

BenSmith4577 (1)“It was a storm I can’t put into words or ever experienced,” said Ben Smith of Arrowhead Dairy, Clovis, N.M.” We have a lot of snow digging out still to do and a lot of cleanup to do as well. We have been milking and feeding again for two days, so that part is good.” When asked what people can do to help, producers say “the prayers are appreciated… and they are helping. -30-

 

FarmshineSee the original story in the January 1, 2016 edition of Farmshine 

 

CAPTIONS

Winter has been nonexistent so far in the Northeast where earthworms litter the ground, spring peepers can be heard, and migratory birds are confused about which way to fly. But for producers in the West Texas and eastern New Mexico dairy region, winter came abruptly last weekend with a vengeance never seen there before and bringing a combination of factors that would be difficult for dairy farms even in regions more accustomed and prepared for big snows. Storm Goliath pounded the area with one to two feet of fine powdery snow driven by 50 to 80 mph winds coming straight from the north and piling hard-packed drifts up to 12-feet high against every structure from calf hutches to commodity sheds to milking parlors. Estimates are that 5% of the region’s milk cows have perished — buried by drifting snow and disoriented as they wandered over the tight-packed snow drifts along corral fence lines. Dry lots work very well in this more desert-like region of the country. Manure dries up and cows stay clean. But this uncommon combination from Storm Goliath brought dairies to a standstill for 48 hours in which the visibility was so poor, producers themselves were getting lost on their own dairies. By Wednesday they were still digging out, finding and tending survivors and just beginning to assess their losses. Photo courtesy of Tio Ford, Clover Knolls Dairy, Texico, New Mexico.

A line of milk trucks was stranded for three days at Southwest Cheese, Clovis, New Mexico, and throughout the region dairies dumped to days of milk with many unable to milk cows for 36 to 40 hours. Photo courtesy of milk hauler Matthew Cook.

In New Mexico and West Texas, the humidity is very low and dry lots are the way dairy cattle are kept. Loaders are needed to dig through the 8 to 12-feet tightly packed drifts that have piled up in corrals, feed lanes and against the south side of every structure from fences to parlors to calf hutches. Photo courtesy of University of New Mexico Extension.

Finding and feeding young calves and milk cows was priority one when the storm ended Monday morning. Calves had been buried in hutches under 6-feet of snow pack, but stories are coming in that a surprising number are being found alive. Officials estimate a 10% loss of young stock throughout the eastern New Mexico and West Texas dairy region from Storm Goliath. Photo courtesy of University of New Mexico Extension.

Dairy Carrie also blogged on this with stories from four dairies here